It was this time last year that the Horns had to battle out of the losers bracket in the Austin Regional (against Arkansas) and then rallied from a one-game deficit at Ole Miss at the Super Regional to claim the program's sixth national championship.
"I forgot about that," Texas coach Augie Garrido admitted shortly after the ballgame in which ace Kyle McCulloch was pulled in the top of the fifth. But Kainer is determined that last year's series of comebacks is engrained in his team's muscle-memory.
"We're going to remind the guys that it can be done," Kainer vowed. "We fought from behind last year."
But does Texas have the pitching this season?
"We have 25 guys on our team," Kainer continued. "If each one believes we can win three games in a row, we know we can do it."
Those "three games" will have to include a pair of wins against a Cardinal team that has now taken three-of-four from Texas this year. On Saturday, Stanford erased an early 3-0 Longhorn lead with a grand slam in the bottom of the second. The Cardinal added a four-spot in the bottom of the fifth when Texas was guilty of two fielding errors and 3B Nick Peoples left the game when he got hit in the nose following a wicked ricochet off the carpet. The Horns would cut into a 9-4 Stanford lead with a four-run, two-out rally in the top of the seventh but the Cardinal responded with a three-run eighth to seal the deal.
RHP Nolan Gallagher, in just his fifth start, picked up his second win against Texas this year. McCulloch was charged with 9 runs on 9 hits to see his mark fall to 8-5. He hit two batters, walked two and fanned two in four innings.
"I tried to go out there and pound the strike zone," McCulloch said. "When they put the ball in play, it went into the hole. It was one of those days when they were putting everything into play and it just didn't work out too well for us."
Whether it was a slow-roller or a high-chopper, the Cardinal swatted five infield singles to sustain rallies.
"They got three or four high-bouncers that are hard to deal with," Garrido noted. "On every one of those we got the in-between hop. It's a real tough play. It still doesn't serve as an excuse. The real skill in that is to battle to put it into play."
Visiting team Texas drew first blood in the opening frame, touching Gallagher for three runs on four hits. Peoples got things started with a one-out single up the middle before Drew Stubbs slapped a 2-2 fastball into left field for his first hit of the Regional. Chance Wheeless' sharply hit grounder back to the mound resulted in an infield single to load the bases. That brought Longhorn RBI leader Kainer to the plate. Kainer doubled down the left field line and 3B umpire Darryl Mason signaled 'foul ball'. But what Mason really intended, he would later tell irate Stanford coach Mark Marquess, was that Kainer's base-clearing shot was 'fair.' The Horns led 3-0 following the junior's 65th RBI of the season.
But the lead was erased with one swing of the bat in the bottom of the second. McCulloch surrendered three singles to load the bases with no outs. C John Hester sent a 2-0 pitch over the left field wall for his first career grand slam. The Cardinal grabbed a 4-3 lead after sending eight to the plate.
The Cardinal extended their lead during their next at-bat. RF Michael Taylor became the second hit-batsman of the day following SS Chris Minaker's lead off single. 2B Chris Lewis sacrificed both runners into scoring position before 1B Jason Castro plated Minaker on the sacrifice fly. Stanford led 5-3 after three complete. Gallagher had retired 10 in a row when Preston Clark came to the plate with two down in the top of the fourth. Clark's second round-tripper of the Regional, a solo-shot over the left field wall, trimmed the Cardinal lead, 5-4. It didn't last for long.
The Horns committed two fielding errors in the bottom of the fifth as Stanford knocked McCulloch off the hill, plating four runs off four hits. 2B Bradley Suttle and Wheeless were charged with fielding errors during the frame. Play was halted for several unsettling minutes after Peoples took that shot to the face.
"Nick is a lot better than I thought he was going to be," Garrido said. "I thought it was going to be a pure wipe-out, with his eyes all swollen, but it's not. The kinds of things that could have happened there are pretty miserable to describe. We'll know more Sunday but it seems to be minimal."
Clay Van Hook replaced Peoples while McCulloch was done for the day as well. Joseph Krebs came on in relief but the Horns now trailed, 9-4.
Texas responded with a two-out rally in top of the seventh, plating four runs on four hits. Hunter Harris singled before Van Hook drew a base on balls. RHP Matt Manship relieved Gallagher on the mound, a move that nearly cost the Cardinal. Stubbs worked the count full before slapping a grounder down the third-base line for a two-RBI double. Wheeless then laced the first ball he saw back up the middle and the Horns were right back in this one. Wheeless stole his fifth bag of the season before Kainer slapped a 3-2 pitch into left for an RBI single. Manship was done. RHP Erik Davis came on to try to salvage the inning, forcing a Jordan Danks pop-fly to center to end the frame with Stanford clinging to a 9-8 lead and the all the momentum in the Longhorn dugout.
Randy Boone took the mound for Texas in the bottom of the eighth. After recording an out, Boone surrendered three straight singles as Stanford added to its margin, 10-8. A wild pitch moved two Cardinal into scoring position before Hester went down swinging. Freshman LHP Austin Wood came on to face lefty Randy Molina. The result was another of those infield high-hoppers for an RBI-single. Jim Rapoport then sent one up the middle for the third Cardinal run of the inning.
"They did a fabulous job of putting the ball into play against quality pitching," Garrido said. "They kept it up and were relentless all day long. We battled back. We put ourselves in a position to win the game, but they found a way to create another rally which was brilliant and effective."
North Carolina State stayed alive after fending off UT-Arlington, 6-5, in 10 innings. The survivor of Sunday's elimination game will immediately face Stanford with the first pitch slated for 4 p.m.